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Lebanon / Israel

Monday, August 07, 2006

Israel mission: update 3

Nahariya, 06/08/06

Today our mission headed further north to the city of Nahariya, which sits about five miles from the Lebanese border and is one the cities that has been hardest hit by the rockets. According to the municipality and police officials, approximately 350 rockets have hit inside the city limits and another 450 in the surrounding area. The municipality told us that two people have been killed and 68 injured in the city and estimates that over 1,000 houses have been damaged. Ordinarily Nahariya is a busy tourist town in the summer, but when we arrive it is virtually deserted.

Visiting Western Galilee Hospital

After a short briefing by the city spokesperson, we headed to the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. The hospital estimates it has treated 1,300 patients, about 65% of which were for psychological trauma. Others were more seriously injured including a storekeeper from Nahariya who lost his leg when a rocket fell near his store. The hospital had built an elaborate underground facility, including everything from a dialysis unit to an underground network of roads. The deputy director of the hospital told us they built the underground part of the hospital hoping they would never have to use it. Shortly after the war began, they were able to move many of the hospital's essential functions either underground or to safer parts of the hospital. The hills of Lebanon are clearly visible from the north facing windows.

Hospital within firing range

The hospital, did in fact sustain a direct hit. A rocket hit a patient's room a few days after the patients on that floor had been moved elsewhere. Although only one room was hit directly, all the rooms that we saw on the floor had clear signs of damage. While we were inspecting the damage, the sirens went off for the first of many times today, and we took the opportunity to look at the underground facility.

Underground we saw everything from patients getting their regular dialysis treatments, to a day care centre for the children of employees to people who had been injured. Some of the injured were older residents who fell while running to shelters including a 66- year old woman who broke her thigh when she fell down the stairs while trying to get to the shelter in her building's basement and an 84-year old woman who fell when a bomb exploded near the shelter she was in when she was trying to get to the shelter's bathroom. We also talked to a 13-year old boy who was injured in the same incident that killed five people in Acre the day before we arrived. The boy's mother said she considered that day to be his birthday, because he was born again since he was only injured and not killed in the explosion.

Among the other patients we met was a five-year-old boy from the Arab village of Maj'd al-Krum who was injured by the same missile that killed two of his uncles. He was eating ice-cream in his uncle's car when the bomb hit.

Visiting public shelters

From the hospital we went to visit some of the public shelters, where many of the cities' residents have spent the past 26 days mostly underground. The emotions of the people we spoke to ranged from resignation, to indignation, to barely suppressed rage. In the first shelter we visited, most of the people were not sleeping in the shelters since there had been fewer rockets at night, but many spent the entire day there, going out only for an hour a day to shop or run other errands. There was about 20-40 in the shelter, including around five children. We were told that the family with children was sleeping in the shelter. Several people we met told us that families with children were being much more cautious.

Overwhelming fear

In the second shelter we visited, which was only one block away, the situation was much different. The shelter was "home" to around 40 people, including 10 children. Most of them had been living there 24 hours a day since the first rockets hit Nahariya on the second day of the conflict. Since they were so close to the border, they told us, that the sirens often go off after the bombs hit or simultaneously. This made many of them too afraid to step outside. One woman told us "We do everything in fear. We eat in fear, we sit in fear. We shower in fear. We sleep in fear." All of the people we spoke to in the shelter told us that their nerves were shot and rubbed raw. The main problem was that they did not know when it would end.

Update: Haifa hit by several rockets

As we were leaving Nahariya, we heard that Haifa had been hit with several rockets. We arrived shortly after the those who had been killed and injured had already been pulled from the rubble and taken to the hospital. We visited three of the sites that had been hit, including one building that had collapsed entirely, and two others that were badly damaged. Again we saw the signs of the metal marbles that we have seen at all the other sites that had been hit by the rockets.

We then headed to Rambam Hospital to try to gather information about the casualties. The hospital reported that three people had been killed and they had over 60 casualties. The other two hospitals in the city had received over 100 casualties. Most of the casualties, however, were treated for shock and released, although they were still compiling figures for the other injuries.

While we were there, they had just begun the process of evacuating over 100 patients from the oncology ward into the basement. Unlike Nahariya which had a purpose built facility, they were simply moving patients into what used to be a storage are they had airconditioned on an emergency basis. The maternity ward and the pediatric intensive care had been moved earlier. These facilities all used to have a view of the ocean facing north. In the past this had provided patients with what was thought was a restful view to help with the healing process. With the recent round of missiles hitting the city, the circumstances, we were told, it had simply become too dangerous.

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